100 Years of Peace through Law: the Walther Schücking Institute of International Law

by Prof Dr Andreas von Arnauld


The Walther Schücking Institute is the oldest university institute specialised in international law in Europe and beyond. Founded in early 1914 by Theodor Niemeyer, its first period of bloom came to an abrupt end when Niemeyer’s successor, pacificst international lawyer Walther Schücking, was dismissed in 1933. During the Nazi period, the Institute remained outside the ‘Kieler Schule’ that set out to redefine law according to National Socialist ideology; for a brief time however, Paul Ritterbusch, director from 1937 to 1941, and his clique brought the Institute in line with Nazism. The rebuilding of the Institute from the shattering effects of the War was mainly the work of Hermann von Mangoldt who became director in 1944. Later directors, like Eberhard Menzel (1955-1975) and Jost Delbrück (1976-2001), further expanded the Institute and re-established its renown as one of the prime academic institutions for international law in Germany. In 1995, the Institute was renamed to honour its former director and Judge at the Permanent Court of International Justice, Walther Schücking.

The First Two Decades (1914-1933)

  • February 1914: The Royal Seminar for International Law (renamed ‘Institute’ in 1918) took up its work in the old town of Kiel, at Dänische Straße 15.
  • The main impulse for its foundation was the ‘first globalisation’ by a rapid expansion of world traffic, trade and information through technological innovation.
  • Theodor Niemeyer (1857-1939), the first director, had great influence on the organisation of international law and legal scholarship during his lifetime. Inter alia, he was a member of the Institut de Droit International and the guiding spirit behind the establishment of the German Society for International Law in March 1917, over which he presided until 1929.
  • The beginning of World War I in August 1914 marked a turning point. With the creation of the ‘War Archive’ and the ‘War Library of International Law’ in 1916, the Institute’s work focused on the research and documentation of the war in its legal and political dimensions.
  • After the war, the Institute dealt primarily with the international peace order newly established with the League of Nations.


  • In 1926 Walther Schücking (1875-1935) became the new director of the Institute.
  • As early as at the beginning of the 20th century, he stood up for an international peace order with strong organisations and courts. His progressive thinking and namely his motto ‘peace through law’ has shaped the Institute to the present-day.
  • During Schücking’s directorate, publications at the Institute grew significantly and with the extensive teaching offer, he managed to attract more and more students to the discipline of international law.
  • In the 1920s the Institute was at the top of international law academia in Germany. Its assistants included Jean Spiropoulos, Paul Guggenheim, and Walter Schätzel.
  • In 1930 Walther Schücking became the first and only German judge to the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague.
  • It came with no surprise when Schücking, committed to peace, was laid off in November 1933 after having been permanently put ‘on leave’ in April. His chair was separated from the Institute and given to the young Pro-Nazi constitutional lawyer, Ernst Rudolf Huber (1903-1990).
  • Walther Schücking remained a judge at the Permanent Court of International Justice until his death in August 1935.
  • To commemorate and honour him, the Institute was renamed Walther Schücking Institute in 1995.

The Nazi Period (1933-1945)

  • In 1934 Walter Schoenborn (1883-1956) became the new director of the Institute.
  • Schoenborn was the only one of the Law Faculty’s ten full professors who survived the ‘cleansing wave’ when the Nazi party seized power. Politically, he was a conservative. Though he joined several National Socialist organisations, he never joined the Nazi political party.
  • His choice as a director seems more like a ‘stopgap’, a testament to the lack of importance the Nazi administration accorded to international law during their first years in power.
  • Through this lack of interest and the ‘in-house solution’ Schoenborn, the Institute remained outside the indoctrination of the ‘Kieler Schule’. Though Schücking’s proactive stance towards the League of Nations was abandoned, the Institute kept its department for the League until 1937.


  • The Institute came under the influence of National Socialist ideology when Paul Ritterbusch (1900-1945), a staunch Nazi, became the new director in 1937. That same year he was appointed rector of the University, limiting the time he could devote to the Institute.
  • Ritterbusch merged his former Königsberg Institute with the Kiel Institute to form the ‘Institute for Politics and International Law’. While its department of international law steered largely clear of ideology, the departments for Politics and Foreign Studies run by Ritterbusch’s clique – namely Richard Naumann (1906-1978) and Hans Helmut Dietze (1911-1946) – followed an outright Nazi course.
  • On the occasion of the Institute’s 25th anniversary in April 1939 Carl Schmitt presented his ‘Völkerrechtliche Großraumordnung’, his first venture into geopolitics and international law.
  • In 1941, Ritterbusch moved to Berlin University from where he organised the ‘Kriegseinsatz der deutschen Geisteswissenschaften’ (‘War Effort of the German Humanities’), also known as ‘Aktion Ritterbusch’.
  • After Ritterbusch’s departure the merger of the two institutes was annulled. Due to the war, research and teaching at the Kiel Institute lay idle.

From the End of World War II Until Today (1945-)

  • Hermann von Mangoldt (1895-1953) was appointed as Ritterbusch’s successor in April 1943 and took over at the end of 1944, after release from his duties as a Navy officer.
  • He immediately organised the evacuation of the Library collection, saving it from the bombardment of Kiel.
  • Mangoldt had kept a certain distance from the Nazi regime without opposing it. His publications of the period are free from National Socialist ideology – except for two instances where he favourably compared the legal situation of Jews in Germany in 1939 to that of coloured people in the USA.
  • In the foundational years of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mangoldt played an important role. Especially as member of the Parliamentary Council he significantly influenced the drafting of the chapter on fundamental rights in the German Basic Law.
  • After the war, Mangoldt was committed to reviving the Institute. In 1948 the Institute’s Library received the status of United Nations Depository Library – the first one in Germany. He also arranged the return of over 2,000 books that Ritterbusch had taken with him from the Institute’s Library to Berlin in 1941.
  • In cooperation with the Research Centre for International Law of the University of Hamburg and its director Rudolf von Laun, the Institute launched the Yearbook for International Law in 1947/48 – today’s German Yearbook of International Law (its title since 1976). Furthermore, the series ‘Publications of the Walther Schücking Institute’ was released again.


  • Eberhard Menzel (1911-1979) was appointed as Mangoldt’s successor in April 1955 – two years after Mangoldt’s sudden death. Viktor Böhmert (1902-1975), long-time head of department at the Institute (since 1929) and professor at the Law Faculty since 1943, was appointed second director.
  • However, it was Menzel who shaped the Institute significantly. In his tenure, he managed to make the Institute once again one of the leading institution for international law in Germany. He inspired young scholars to pursue an academic career, such as Dietrich Rauschning, Jost Delbrück, Knut Ipsen, and Rainer Lagoni.
  • In 1964, its 50th anniversary, the Institute moved into new premises – the newly erected University tower at Christian-Albrechts-Platz.


  • With Menzel severely ill, Böhmert’s successor, Wilhelm A. Kewenig (1934-1993) steered the Institute through the 1970s’ structural changes: the Institute was integrated into the Faculty of Law and the hierarchical directorate with a first and second director was abolished in favour of an equal collegial directorate with an alternating managing director.
  • The old patriarchal ‘Ordinarienuniversität’ gave finally way to a less top-down way of work when Jost Delbrück (*1935) was appointed as Menzel’s successor in 1976. Like Kewenig, Delbrück brought a cooperative leadership from his studies in the USA, which has lasted until today.
  • For almost 25 years, Delbrück influenced and inspired the Institute’s work. Among his ‘mentees’ are Karl Ulrich Meyn, Eibe Riedel, Hans-Joachim Schütz, Klaus Dicke, Stephan Hobe, Anne Peters, and Christian Tietje. The list is complemented by Siegfried Magiera and Doris König who were mentored by Kewenig and Rüdiger Wolfrum, respectively.
  • During the co-directorate of Delbrück and Rüdiger Wolfrum (*1941), from 1982 to 1993, the Institute became an outright ‘power house’ in international law in Germany. The University team was notoriously successful at the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competitions and several important symposia were held in Kiel (e.g. Antarctic Challenges I-III, 1983, 1985, 1987; Strengthening the World Order: Universalism versus Regionalism, 1989; The Future of International Law Enforcement: New Scenarios – New Law, 1992).
  • A law of the sea expert and former member of the delegation of the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Wolfrum firmly established the law of the sea as a focus of the Institute’s work. He would later serve as judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg (from 1996 to 2017), over which he presided from 2005 until 2008.

The Institute in Recent Years

  • Jost Delbrück retired in 2001. The end of the Delbrück era was followed by another crucial event in 2002. The Institute moved into the building of the former University Library at Westring 400, its current location.
  • Later directors were Rainer Hofmann (*1953, director 1997-2004), Andreas Zimmermann (*1961, director 2001-2009) and Thomas Giegerich (*1959, from 2006-2012), each of them further expanding the teaching and research focus of the Institute.
  • In 2007, a new professorship for the law of the sea was created within the cluster of excellence ‘Future Ocean’. The first in the new ‘triumvirate’ of directors became Alexander Proelss (*1973, director 2007-2010).